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‘Hydrarchy: Transitional and Transformative Seas’ Exhibition at CIC

Contemporary Image Collective: Hydrarchy: Transitional and Transformative Seas

reviewed by
Tanya El Kashef
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Contemporary Image Collective: Hydrarchy: Transitional and Transformative Seas

Tucked away
in an inconspicuous building in Downtown Cairo, is the Contemporary Image
Collective (CIC) gallery – host of a new group exhibition called ‘Hydrarchy: Transitional and Transformative
Seas’. Launched on Friday, December 9th, the exhibition will continue
until January 7th, 2012.

‘Transitional and Transformative Seas’ is the second part of a
two-phase project that began with ‘Hydrarchy:
Power and Resistance at Sea’ in London in September 2010. This
exhibition is about the expanse of the sea and the role it plays –
geopolitically – in changing a life: improving and inspiring it, or restricting
and destroying it.

With direct
instructions on the elevator buttons to begin the viewing from the third floor,
the first piece of work is found painted in the stairwell leading up to the
fourth floor, where the gallery is located. With At A
Tangent to What Appears to Be Infinity,
Lawrence Weiner plays on the
graphic language of maritime navigation. An imperative tool for the survival of
ships, the arcane field of navigation uses the horizon as a universal reference
point. Although Cairo has no horizon and therefore would lack ’navigability‘, with
the elevation of the stairs and Weiner’s enhancement and restructuring of the navigational
diagrams, he somehow produces a positive message – suggesting that perhaps a
new perspective can be taken on navigation, and thus still reach the desired

The first
display inside the gallery is Superunknown
(Alive in the)
by Xaviera Simmons. A
collection of news images, all grainy and some out of focus, depict the reality
of an overcrowded boat of immigrants making its way to land. The photographs
emphasise the displacement of these people; no land is visible around them,
there is no indication or implication of where they were or where they were heading.
The power that the sea holds over them in vastness and possible cruelty
reflects the impact that postcolonial migration politics has on them as well.

A hefty
plastic bag filled with 375 litres of water is The Sea Package by Ayed Arafah. Water collected by
friends and colleagues from around the world was delivered to Ramallah and
combined to create a temporary sea, one ’that carries no waves, no port; no
beach.’ The most moving of the works, the end result – a large plastic bag held
up by a rope around its neck – is considerably morbid. Arafah’s work was the
only one with added information written on an adjacent wall- something
noticeably lacking amongst the other pieces.

The Short and the Long of It 7.0 by Uriel Orlow
is a modular installation that attempts to piece together as much footage and
documents from the time the ‘yellow fleet’ became trapped in the Suez Canal,
October 1967, due to the Six-Day War between Egypt and Israel. The artist
parallels the powerful role of the military at that time to that of today. The
old video recordings of sailors messing around on a docked ship are strongly
nostalgic, a projector with slides emitting Egypt-centric sentences on the
facing wall is quite beautiful, the authentic photographs and postcards laid
under the glass of a sturdy wooden table are intriguing, yet there is still
something missing. The rest of the related items are sparse and randomly placed;
they seem incoherent and unfinished – and not in a way that seems deliberate.

The beauty
of this project is in the differing ways the sea is being viewed. The ideas
that the sea can unite, divide, destroy and control; it can provide a new life,
or take it away; it can trap and it can release, are all profound and thought-provoking. However, the experience of receiving these messages, the actual
manner in which they were exhibited, was pretty unenthused
and generally came off as lacking.

360 Tip

Be careful going up to the CIC. If you try to get out on the wrong side of the elevator, you may just fall to your death.

Best Bit

 It’s always fun to go to Downtown for an art exhibition.

Worst Bit

The Mapping Journey Project by Bouchra Khalil.

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